Saturday Surprise — 1917

I am sorry I did not get a Saturday Surprise post scheduled last Saturday as I had promised, but I simply ran out of both time and energy before my trip.  One of the suggestions for Saturday Surprise posts came from Gronda, who suggested time travel – what was it like when …?

The year is 1917, and I think you will find life was just a little different back then.

If you woke up in the morning, you could consider yourself lucky, for the average life expectancy in 1917 was 48.4 years for men and 54 years for women.  Once out of bed, you likely built up a fire in the woodstove to cook breakfast and heat water to wash your face with, for only about 24% of homes had electricity.  Then, if you were a man, you likely headed out the door to either walk to work or take the streetcar. The cost of a car was a mere $400, but since you likely only earned about $0.22 per hour, it is unlikely you owned one. However, 1917 was the first year that traffic counts in New York showed more cars than horses. Oh, and if you did own a car, you would want to watch out for those speed limits which were 10 mph in most cities!

streetIf you were a woman, most likely you did not work outside the home, but if you did, you were probably a elementary or high school teacher. School boards preferred female teachers not only because they were seen as more loving, but also because they would do what male principals told them while accepting less than a man’s wage. The world literacy rate was only 23%, and only some 6% graduated from high school, as most dropped out to either help on the family farm or enter the workforce.

It is doubtful that you owned your home, but if you did, it probably cost around $5,000 (about 14% of what a new car costs today!).  In fact, you probably lived with one or more older generation, if they were lucky enough to outlive the average life expectancy.  Oh, and speaking of the elderly … there was no Social Security, Medicare, etc. Since the women were outliving the men by some six years, widows moved in with their adult children and children lived at home until they got married, at the average age of 21. Made for a crowded household sometimes.

Now, on the weekend, if you could afford it, you might take your family to the beach for the day.  Beach attire was just a tad different back then …

A trip to the grocery … remember you are only earning $0.22 per hour … could be a difficult proposition with food prices so high. You would have to work three hours just to buy a pound of butter and a dozen eggs!

Bread (1-lb loaf)                $0.07
Butter (lb)                           $0.36
Eggs (dozen)                      $0.34
Ground coffee (lb)           $0.30
Potatoes (10 lbs)              $0.15

And speaking of food … 1917 saw the invention of the hamburger bun, and thus the hamburger was born.  Today, the average American consumes 3 hamburgers per week!  My family and I are definitely below average on this one. And to go with that hamburger … it was in 1917 that Coca-Cola introduced the formula that is still popular today. And where did you buy that food?  The first supermarket opened just the year before, in September 1916 – Piggly Wiggly.  No, I am not calling you a piggly wiggly … that was the name of the store … honest!  Actually, I think these are still around in the south.

piggly-wiggly.jpgIt is doubtful that you were among the 8% of people who had a telephone, and by telephone I mean


Not …


One person who could afford a telephone in 1917 was John D. Rockefeller who became the world’s first billionaire on September 20th.

Not everything was rosy in 1917, for it was on April 6th that the U.S. entered into what would become known as World War I.

War-nyt-April 6.jpgThough women would not get the right to vote for another three years, they did score in 1917 when Jeannette Rankin, of Montana, became the first woman to be elected to the U.S. House of Representatives!!!

Today we should be grateful for Mr. Gideon Sundback for his 1917 invention of the … zipper! Early on, zippers were mainly used on boots and pouches that held tobacco. It would be another 20 years before the fashion industry began to use zippers on clothing. So … how did pants stay … oh, never mind … not going there.

zipper.jpegAnd what music were Americans listening to on their ipods … er, um phonographs?

phonograph.jpgNora Bayes had the number one selling hit record titled “Over There”.

A sampling of the lyrics:

“Over there, over there

Sent the word, send the word over there

That the Yanks are coming

The ear drums rum-tumming


So prepare, say a prayer

Sent the word, send the word to beware

We’ll be over, we’re coming over

And we won’t come back till it’s over

Over there”

Others in the year’s top ten included:

At the Darktown Strutter’s Ball by Original Dixieland Jazz Band

Poor Butterfly by Victor Military Band

For Me and My Gal by Van and Schenck

And what were you watching on television in 1917?  Nothing, for television was still 10 years in the future.

Most of us have said, at one time or another, how we would love to go back to a simpler time.  We get frustrated with the hustle and bustle, with our electronic toys, and long for “the good ol’ days”. But when you think about it, life was hard (and short) 100 years ago.  I think I shall remain in this, the 21st century!


I hope you enjoyed today’s Saturday Surprise as much as I enjoyed writing it.  Quite honestly, I have been in a royal funk for a couple of days, but once I started researching for this post, I found I was having tons of fun!  Thank you, Gronda for this marvelous idea … one which we shall do again soon!

24 thoughts on “Saturday Surprise — 1917

  1. In 1915 the American Lady always was thought of as ‘gay,’

    Their frocks were long with pretty skirts and walking made them sway.

    The show of an ankle
    Never did rankle
    And men would bow ‘good day.’

    Ah, how times have changed
    And become so maimed
    Our goals have gone astray.

    OK… It’s not a limerick, but it is a rhyme to compliment the good ol’ days. But perhaps I am nostalgic for simpler times that actually weren’t what we wish for (having not been there as I do not have a time machine).

    The post was fun and informative, showing that we can find the positive side in every age … Including today. And we should focus on them because they make us feel good, loving and part of a caring community.

    When I was thinking about the little ditty to write, I wondered about the birth of the ‘silent movie,’ but further research took me to the most popular cinema production in America, ‘The Birth of a Nation’ and I recoiled in horror at the thought that ‘White Supremecy’ and membership of the KKK was held up as a badge of honour! Urgh.

    Wikipedia says:
    ‘The Birth of a Nation (originally called The Clansman) is a 1915 American silent epic drama film directed and co-produced by D. W. Griffith and starring Lillian Gish. The screenplay is adapted from the novel and play The Clansman, both by Thomas Dixon Jr.’

    Liked by 1 person

    • I absolutely LOVE your limericks, ditties, etc. Next time I get stuck in the rabbit hole and cannot get out, I shall ask you for one!

      Yes, this was a fun post to write. I initially started to use the year 1942, but then decided on a 100 year mark. When I was younger, I thought the long dresses and hats would have been fun, but now that I am older, I cannot imagine giving up my sweats, jeans and t-shirts for all that frillery. It took them an hour just to get dressed!

      I was not aware of The Birth of a Nation, its subject matter or history, but a quick glance at Wikipedia, since you stoked my curiosity, shows that a remake was done last year! I am spluttering! SHEESH!!!

      Anyway … glad you liked this post! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. It’s the world some people seem to want to return to – a world where only white men could vote, and therefore decide the fate of a nation. I did love the post though. I love looking back and seeing what places looked like long ago. Thanks!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Glad you enjoyed it! Yes, things were much different 100 years ago, and while our society was, indeed, still backward, I also have to note that not all the changes in the past 100 years have been for the better. But then, good/bad, better/worse … they are all relative. I cannot even begin to imagine what changes will transpire in the next 100 years. That is, if the human race doesn’t destroy itself in that time frame. Sigh.


  3. I love wearing a frock coat and loved the Edwardian era, possibly I was born in the wrong generation. However I’m not sure I’d welcome a full time swap if it meant losing certain friends I’ve made.
    xxx Massive Hugs xxx

    Liked by 2 people

    • Ah yes, I can actually picture you in your frock coat and top hat! Perhaps you were born into the wrong era, but then I would never have known you and my life would be a little bit less bright. I wasn’t born into the wrong era … I was born into the wrong species! I should have been a wolf. Ah well, next time ’round. 🙂

      xxx Cwtch xxx

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Very interesting and a good start to a “Surprise Saturday”. There is a Piggly Wiggly in Seattle, or there was? I try not to go to USA these days. They probably would not want me, either? Buttons were used before zips. Somewhere I still have a pair of Levi’s made in US with buttons in the fly. As a vegetarian, burgers are low on my list. At the Costco, recently bought some Yves rice and lentil ones. I occasionally make veggie patties. Lentils, rice, oats, potato. All make for great patty base. I could do without the telephone. When children, use of phones was strictly monitored. I am currently searching for a new car and the list of mechanical add-ons is phenomenal. Assist this, or assist that, integrated phones and mapping. Then the engines have different transmissions and power units. So in that regard, very different to 1917. Good wishes for those caught in Hurricane Harvey … Cheers Jamie

    Liked by 2 people

    • Glad you liked the post, my friend! I checked, and didn’t see one in Seattle. They are mostly in the south, except for a few in Minnesota and Ohio. I can’t say that I blame you for staying out of the U.S. these days … more than once I have considered relocating to your neck of the woods! And yes, buying a new car is not quite the same as it was even 20 years ago! I used to be able to work on cars … fix carburettors, do tune ups, change oil … but not any more. I raise the hood now and don’t even recognize half of what is there. They have a lot more bells and whistles now, but frankly they don’t run any better — don’t have the pep that the cars of the 60s & 70s did!
      Cheers, my friend!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Dear Jill,

    Thanks for the time travel. I loved it. It would take three more years before women had the right to even vote. What a difference a 100 years makes
    A lot of us women would not have made it past child birth.

    Let’s count our blessings in addition to saying goodbye to DDT.

    i’ve been thinking that on DDT’s last day in the WH, he should finally get the crowds that he has been dreaming about for about a year..

    Hugs, Gronda

    Liked by 1 person

    • Glad you liked the post … and thanks for this great idea … I had a great time looking for info and writing this piece.

      Yes, when that last day finally comes, you are right … more people will be there cheering his leaving than have ever cheered at his rallies! Today, my daughter mentioned Christmas and I told her I wanted only one thing for Christmas this year … an impeachment!


      Liked by 1 person

  6. Great post, Jill. My dad was in the U.S. Navy before, during, and after WWI. He served on board an old battle ship made into a troupe transport ship. He said he chose the navy so he wouldn’t have to wade around in the mud. 😀 — Suzanne

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Terrific stuff! You are right, “life was hard” but hopes were high. Even with the way looming folks were more likely tooklook ahead and around — more aware of what was going on around them. I pine for the “good old days” except when I have a toothache or need surgery! But there’s something to be said for slowing things down. 10 MPH in town sounds like a great idea!! Thanks for this. It was fun. 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m so glad you liked it! I had great fun writing it. And yes, a bit less electronic noise and a slower pace does appeal. But the 10 mph thing … well, next time I go to Pennsylvania, it would take me 63 hours instead of 9, so I’m not so sure I like that! 😉


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